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Political text messaging offers danger, opportunity

By Beth Fouhy

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, April 10 2012 12:29 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2012, file photo Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney talks to reporters on his campaign plane en route from Tampa, Fla. to Minnesota and Nevada. Romney faces a daunting to-do list as he transitions into the role of likely Republican presidential nominee: raise more money, hire more people to work states critical in the fall race, hone his message for broad-spectrum appeal, while fending off GOP challengers who refuse to quit, thinking about a running mate, and refining a strategy to win the 270 electoral votes needed for the White House. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

Associated Press

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NEW YORK — Text messaging is posing both new opportunities and dangers for America's political campaigns.

The most widely used form of mobile communication, it has become one of the most effective ways for campaigns to reach supporters, using 160-character messages to encourage last-minute donations or provide information such as where to vote. And strict federal rules prohibit such texts from going to anyone who does not "opt in" to receive them.

But some groups have found their way around that requirement, using email — rather than the SMS "short code" that telemarketers normally use — to send unsolicited, anonymous and often negative messages to cellphone lists they purchase through brokers.

That texting practice has angered voters, who are forced to pay if they don't have flat-rate messaging plans. And it's alarmed campaign strategists, who fear political texting will be weakened by the introduction of what amounts to spam texting.

"They've taken a tool and technology we used to help people get voter information and turned it into a very sophisticated way to do voter suppression tactics and annoy people with false and misleading information," said Scott Goodstein of Revolution Messaging, a Democratic-leaning mobile communications firm. "Worse yet, people are being charged to receive these messages."

Goodstein has filed a complaint about the practice with the Federal Communications Commission, whose Telephone Consumer Protection Act prohibits telemarketers from texting "to any telephone number ... or any service for which the called party is charged."

Unsolicited messages hit the presidential campaign this year, when texts targeting Republican Mitt Romney surfaced in Colorado, South Carolina and Michigan. Voters received texts urging them to call a number where they heard a recorded message criticizing the former Massachusetts governor.

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